Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Cloud Atlas, Makeup and the Oscars

There's already much that's been written about the 2013 Oscars. Of course, there was talk about Seth MacFarlane as host, (I thought he did a good job, personally,) and there was talk about the excess of musical numbers from movies that came out years ago, (which also resulted in the exclusion of performances for two of the songs that were actually nominated,) but I want to take a moment to call attention to one of the often overlooked categories.

As the Oscars were going on, a friend pointed out that not only did Cloud Atlas not win for Best Makeup, it wasn't even nominated. I found this surprising, as the extensive makeup and prosthetics were one of the most talked about aspects of the film. In fact, of all the films to come out last year, Cloud Atlas was the only film I could think of where there was anything particular notable about the makeup at all.

If you haven't seen the film, Cloud Atlas has six interwoven storylines, each set in different eras and parts of the world. As a way of uniting the storylines, the same core cast is used in each timeline. However, since the stories are set in such varied locales such as a 19th century merchant ship, modern times, a futuristic Korea and a post apocalyptic Hawaii, the actors appearances had to be changed dramatically for each setting.

Although the makeup team's talent was quite evident with Hugh Grant's characters, as he was practically unrecognizable in all six of his roles, what make their work really stand out was the transformation of the British actor Jim Sturgess to a Korean character for the Neo Seoul scenes. The work was so convincing, that if nobody told you about the prosthetic work in advance, it would be easy to assume that Jim Sturgess's role had in fact been played by a Korean actor.

I have two theories about why Cloud Atlas was snubbed. One theory is that not enough Academy members even saw the movie to even consider it for a nomination. The other theory is that the Academy wanted to avoid the controversy about having white actors made-up to look like non-whites. It's a controversy that started to build on the internet before the movie's release, but I think it died down once people who saw the movie realized that prosthetic work didn't just involve putting whites in non-white roles. Black and Asian actors starring in the film also underwent prosthetic makeup jobs to portray characters of different races. Also, Sturgess (whose race-swapping was most prominent in the film,) didn't pander to the sort of negative stereotypes commonly associated with white actors playing other races. In other words, we're not talking about Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany's

Unfortunately, this leads me to conclude that it didn't get nominated simply because not enough people saw it, which is a shame, because it suggests that much of the pre-awards season lobbying actually is necessary to be nominated for awards. However, for the life of me, I'm still not going to understand how the movie that did win, Les Miserables, beat out the other nominees in the category. Les Miserables was up against The Hobbit, a movie that transformed a crew of actors into goblins, dwarves and Hobbits, and Hitchcock a movie that transformed the famous faced Anthony Hopkins into the famous director. The makeup in Les Miserables, simply involved dirtying up some actors faces and cleaning up the others. It's not that they didn't do a good job at it, but there was nothing terribly stand-out about the makeup in that film at all, at least compared to other period pieces. 

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